People used to admire my ambition and drive.
For instance, in 2007 I was working full time, doing my MBA part time, taking care of an infant and throwing special events on the weekends. People asked how I did it. Well, I worked about 90 hours a week. Somehow I had the energy (and support from my family) to do it.
This was not unique to 2007. Since high school I have consistently pursued multiple, escalating goals. People were impressed by my ambition and more so by my execution. When I set a goal – mostly related to my career or education – I did everything in my power to achieve it.
I was ambitious after high school because I was a slacker during high school. Shortly after I finished high school, I had a wake-up call that was like getting poked with an electric cattle prod. I suddenly realized I’d been wasting precious time and needed to catch up. The only way to catch up was to work twice as hard as everyone else around me.
Things have changed. I’m hesitant to write this statement down, but today I have no goals. It’s not that I don’t want a clear goal. It’s more like the clear goals that I could have easily identified in the past no longer exist.
What the hell happened?
I think somewhere between 2014-2016 I burned out.
During that period I was running a few massive projects and working long and stressful hours as usual. After years of getting ground down, I think these projects were what finally hit bone. I can’t point to a particular moment at which my conviction shifted, but the warning signs were intensifying. One night while taking out the garbage I flipped and threw the garbage can onto my front lawn. I was self-medicating every night. After 20+ years of remission, my eczema returned.
The pressure of work and responsibility of middle class family life broke me. After 2016, something permanently changed. I stopped giving a sh!t about other people’s agendas.
I am still a valuable asset to my employer. But today I focus on what I think needs to be done, cutting out as much bureaucracy (i.e. BS) as possible. I dedicate my attention to work that interests me and is valuable to the company, instead of wasting time with activities that no self-respecting entrepreneur would do.
My problem now though is that I’m hitting goals more accidentally than deliberately. In the past I would set out a goal – e.g. get my CFA – and do everything in my power to achieve it. Today, I focus on the work – e.g. thought leadership for the financial services industry – and achieve results that I never set out to achieve. I’m traversing the ocean, but I’m rudderless.
Does it matter? I don’t know. I still spend a significant amount of time trying to come up with goals. So far my only goal is to write more.
Perhaps this is what happens after you burn out. You stop scrambling to reach the next achievement and instead you calmly savor the process.